Oliver Howard on the Death of Charles Harker: “God grant that we may live like him”

Perhaps one of the most well known casualties of Kennesaw Mountain, 28 year old Brigadier General Charles Garrison Harker was one of two brigade commanders who fell

Brigadier General Charles Garrison Harker, 28 years old when he was killed at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

Brigadier General Charles Garrison Harker, 28 years old when he was killed at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

with mortal wounds on the field of battle on June 27, 1864 (the other being the famed Colonel Dan McCook, who died on July 17, 1864). Harker only lived a few hours after being hit in the arm and chest while attempting to rally his men in charging the lines of Confederate generals Patrick Cleburne and Benjamin Cheatham. He was likely wounded around 9:30 am on the morning of the attack.

Because of Harker’s notoriety, as well as the great respect many had for him, he is an individual you can expect to read quite a bit about on this blog as it progresses. I spent part of today working on developing a talk about Harker at Kennesaw, and while going through my notes and files, I came across a letter which none other than Major General Oliver Otis Howard wrote regarding Charles Harker on July 15, 1864, several weeks after the young brigadier general had been killed.

In this letter, Howard’s pen flows with immense praise for the slain Harker. Howard recalled that when he taught at West Point in the late 1850s, Harker was a cadet who stood out with a sterling reputation and character. Howard also noted that when he took command of the 4th Corps, Army of the Cumberland, he wanted Harker to serve as his chief of staff, a post which Harker turned down in order to stay in the field.

Major General Oliver O. Howard

Major General Oliver O. Howard

Howard is, in my opinion, one of the most impressive officers of the war. I have long identified with Howard, not only because my ancestor was a member of the Philadelphia Brigade of the Army of the Potomac–Howard led this brigade at Antietam–but because Howard was a strong Christian who bravely fought or his ideals and served in the thick of the fighting at Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, just to name a few battles. Soon after writing this letter, Howard would assume command of the Army of the Tennessee following the death of James McPherson at Atlanta. Thus, the letter that follows is one full of praise for an officer struck down in the prime of his life upon the fields of Kennesaw Mountain, written by one of the most famous and important generals of the Civil War.



HQ 4th Corps, July 15, 1864
My Dear Colonel

I knew General Harker as a cadet while I was on duty as instructor at West Point. He was then remarkable for independence of character and uprightness of conduct. I was particularly happy to renew my acquaintance with him after I came West. I was surprised and pleased to find that so young a man had won the complete confidence of the commanding general of the department. On taking command of this corps Harker was still a colonel, and as I was a comparative stranger in the corps, I was anxious to get him to serve as my chief of staff. He assured me he would do everything in his power to aid me in my duties, but if I would excuse him he greatly preferred command in the field. His choice I soon learned to appreciate. Strict and exact in the performance of his own duty, he obtained the most willing and hearty cooperation from all his officers without apparent effort. The only complaint I ever heard was that if Harker got started against the enemy he could not be kept back. Yet I never found him other than cool and self-possessed. Whenever anything difficult was to be done—anything that required pluck and energy—we called on Harker.
At Rocky Face, where his division wrested one-half of that wonderful wall of strength; at Resaca, where he tenaciously held a line of works close under fire; at Dallas, where he held on for several days with thin lines in connection with his brother officers and hammered their works at a distance of less than 100 yards; at Muddy Creek, where he reinforced the skirmishers and directed their movements with so much skill and vigor as to take and hold a strong line of the enemy’s earthworks; in fact, at every place where they corps had been engaged, this noble young man earnestly and heartily performed his part.
On June 27th (upon his horse) he led in that terrible assault on the enemy’s breastworks. We did not carry them, but part of his command reached the works. A sergeant bearing the colors was bayoneted as he was climbing over. Our beloved and trusted young general was close by, pressing forward with his column, when the fatal wound was received. I never saw him after the fight began. I do not yet realize that he is gone—one so full of rich promise, so noble, so true a friend, so patriotic a soldier. God grant that we may live like him, and, if called to die, have as good an earnest of enduring peace in heaven as had our lamented General C.G. Harker.
I am, colonel, respectfully, your obedient servant.
O.O. Howard, Major General
To Colonel G.P. Buell, commanding, 58th Indiana


Howard, Autobiography, Vol. 1, 586-588.



2 thoughts on “Oliver Howard on the Death of Charles Harker: “God grant that we may live like him”

  1. We are researching the personal life of General Charles Garrison Harker. Much is known of his character and his bravery and military record. Not much is known of the woman he is purported to have been engaged to — Narcissa Pillow Sanders of Tennessee. If anyone has information or documentation, it would be greatly appreciated.

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